This, That and Other Stuff

Bob Neuman

In February each year, Mesa is flooded with tourists who have come to watch the Chicago Cubs in spring training. Fanatics perhaps might be applicable.

In the past season, the Cubs had a very good team that made the play-offs and are predicted to be contenders this season. But for years prior, it has been a frustrating situation.

Arizonans do not wander off looking for a scorpion, rattlesnake or black widow to be bitten by them. Right up there with those undesirable bites is an ailment called the Chicago Cub Syndrome. They are consumed with a lifelong obsession that rises and falls with each Cubs game. No matter that the Cubs’ last winning World Series was in in 1908.

My debilitation began in 1945 when Chicago played Detroit in the World Series. I bet a quarter on their winning it and I lost, but that episode hooked me as a masochistic Cubs fan for life.

In between whacks on the knuckles from Sister Virginia Clare, we were permitted to listen to each game in class. She brought in a radio, no doubt overjoyed with the respite from pugnacious students.

In 1945 many professional ball players were still in the military, so the current teams made do with very young and older players. The 1945 Cubs team had nine players between age 36 and 43. Then a player reaching 35 was considered washed up.

For numerous years, the owners never felt compelled to fork out the necessary funds to produce good teams. The fans came to historic Wrigley Field regardless. Therefore, there were years and years of mediocre teams who were paid a pittance, compared to the millionaire ballplayers now. For example, the great Cub Ernie Banks drew an initial $10,000 for his first year.

I have a die-hard Cubs friend who attends each training game in full uniform, keeps score and is an authority on all past and present player statistics. When he talks about the team, he says “we” and not “them,” absorbing their identity.

Suppose before takeoff the captain says, “Ladies and gentlemen we will be flying at 30,000 feet at a speed of 650 mph. The weather is clear. Oh, by the way, I intend to put the plane in a dive and kill all of you.”

Sane passengers would break out windows and rush to the doors, but not Cubs fans who would sit tight. After all they are filled with optimism and steeped in disappointment.

Before television, I spent countless hours listing to Cubs games on the radio and hearing announcers like Bert Wilson and Dizzy Dean who used such descriptions as “He slud into third.” Being 150 miles from Chicago caused fadeouts and static as I listened. Years later my younger daughter confessed how she discovered that her bedroom light would produce the static when turned on; her way of acting out grudges toward me.

I should have taken the lost quarter and the horrible static as omens and abandoned the Cubs there and then because of years of horrible teams.

Yes, that is exactly what I will do this very day. On the other hand, perhaps I would do well to wait just one more year.